Molly Peach-Dancing In Flower Fields

Why I Am Letting Go of Perfectionism

“Alice is eager to do her best work. She frequently cries when she does not understand a concept or complete work perfectly. She is very hard on herself and demands perfection.” These are the comments that my elementary school teacher, Mr. Tracy wrote for my first quarter report card when I was in first grade. I found this report card in one of my dad’s drawers when I was in high school and I chuckled at these comments because I thought to myself, “I am still totally like this.” But now when I look back on my past, I see a child who thought she needed to be perfect in order to be loved. Believing that idea hurt me in ways that I didn’t even realize until now. 

For a long time, I have worn my perfectionism like a badge of honor. I associated being a perfectionist with striving to be the best version of myself. I rationalized to myself that although nobody is perfect, I could get pretty damn close to it if I aspired toward perfectionism regardless. That logic seems like it makes sense, right? It did to me when I was eighteen, but now I think about how much unhappiness this attitude created in my life. 

Being a perfectionist has robbed me from fully enjoying a lot of experiences because I was so consumed by my fear of failure. For example, I stopped participating in my church’s Moon Festival celebrations because I would mess up on stage while dancing almost every year that I participated. All I wanted to do was get the moves right that I wasn’t even having fun. And when I did perform decently, I felt relief more so than the joy of dancing. 

When you try to be perfect, you rarely ever feel good enough for yourself and the people you love. In high school, my yearbook advisor Mr. Elliott would tell me how much he believed in me as a writer. Those words have always meant a lot to me, but I often felt uncomfortable hearing these things because I felt like I didn’t deserve so much support. I have cried several times while thinking about how loved I am by my family, friends, and teachers. And I was always confused as to why these tears felt more like an expression of sadness rather than joy—until I realized recently that it’s because part of me believes that I am unworthy of receiving unconditional love. 

Anna Schultz-Girl Sitting On Bed Facing Wall

Perfectionism secretly sets you up for disappointment and self-loathing because you base your self-worth on the results that you get and how close you are to becoming the person you think you should be. As a result, you lose sight of your inherent value by not embracing your true self. Motivated by fear and shame instead of self-love, you chase after an unattainable version of yourself with frustration because being perfect doesn’t exist.

I am choosing to live differently now, though. I no longer glorify perfectionism because it doesn’t serve me to think otherwise. I am opening up more to my friends about my fears and insecurities because I am not trying to hide my imperfections so much anymore. Unlearning the thoughts and behaviors that I have built around my own perfectionism will take time, but letting go of my perfectionism has already made me feel lighter.